Fostering Values-Driven Sustainability Through an Ex-Post Capacities Lens (reposting a book chapter)

We all want our project results to be sustained, but without doing ex-post sustainability evaluations, we don’t know if they are. However, ex-post evaluations can also teach us how to fund, design, monitor, and evaluate projects before they close. They also require some evaluator competencies, and the checklists below are designed to help build capacities to make implemented projects more sustained, This research was also informed by excellent research by INTRAC and CDA. Enjoy! Also, you can download it from this great array of evaluator competencies via the Journal of Multidisciplinary Evaluation.

Fostering Values-Driven Sustainability Through an Ex-Post Evaluation Capacities Lens

 

Jindra Cekan/ova

Founder of Valuing Voices at Cekan Consulting LLC

Background: Ex-post evaluation of sustainability has been done for 40 years in global development. However, it has been done far less than 1% of all global development projects, for there is little proof that “sustainable” development is or is not. Similarly, foreign aid projects are implemented to foster sustainability, but without the benefit of evidence from ex-post evaluations of what drove it and limited research on the benefits of robust exit strategies..

 

Purpose: Transparency in values we hold, and evaluative capacities’ best practices that we bring to our evaluations inform how they are done, with whom, and for what. Using the evidence base from ex-post evaluations and exit strategies led to these nine checklists. Professionals in monitoring and evaluation should use them to foster long-term sustainability and learning.

 

Setting: Drawing on primary and secondary research across 91 ex-post evaluations of foreign aid sustainability plus two major studies of exit strategies globally..

 

Intervention: Not applicable.

 

Research Design: The checklists were drafted based on sustainability and exit studies and then vetted with lead researchers of the two exit studies. They were revised, and additional research was done on both values-driven evaluation and evaluation competencies.

Data Collection and Analysis: Some primary data was collected during ex-post evaluations by the author, complemented by secondary research.

 

Findings: Sustained exit commitments and conditions checklists can build evaluator capacities in evaluating sustainability. Several have been used by Tufts, USAID, the GEF, and the Adaptation Fund and verified actual sustainability and its prospects. Also, evaluator capacities can be built.

 

Keywords: ex-post evaluation; sustainability; monitoring and evaluation; values; competencies; M&E checklists

Abstract

 

Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) work is guided by an array of values held by funders, implementers, M&E experts, and project participants and partners. Some values are explicit, while others are assumed, such as the truth of “values-neutral” evaluation or that projects are sustainable in the long term. I espouse Patton’s (2022) “activist interventionist change-committed evaluation” by both advocating for ex-post evaluation of many development aid projects’ untested hypotheses about durability, and suggesting ex-post lessons can shape development aid projects from design to closure. Ex-post lessons are valuable for current project planning, design, implementation, and M&E. Using them can make development results more sustainable. Checklists created to ease monitoring and evaluation of prospects for sustainability should be used with country nationals. Six evaluator competencies support sustainability practice, namely systems thinking competency, collaboration competency, anticipatory competency, and reflective, technical, and situational practice competencies. Drawing on several studies that validate this approach, this paper shows how infrequently ex-post evaluations of sustainability are conducted. This seems to indicate that the lessons learned from ex-post evaluation are not valued. Bringing lessons from rare ex-post evaluations to benefit current implementation and exit is the core of the checklists described in this article. Learning from ex-post evaluations and exit studies is very beneficial to inform current aid projects and helps results last. Evaluator competencies are built through this paper. Evaluating both the results expected by donors and new, locally emerging outcomes from local efforts to sustain results also adds value to the canon. Ongoing learning and sharing lessons from progress around the project cycle, from participants to donors, and among M&E experts is vital, especially bringing those lessons back to new projects. The six competencies, the technical checklists, and evaluative thinking about sustainability can help shift programming toward locally led and sustainable development.

Introduction

 

This paper explores a range of values and capacities needed to support the sustainability of foreign aid development projects. It draws on 12 years of Valuing Voices research.[1] This initiative, aimed to increase sustainable solutions for excellent impact through learning from ex-post project sustainability evaluations, also focuses on how evaluators can promote the design, monitoring, and evaluation of sustainability pre-closure and draw on germane evaluator competencies. This paper explores a range of evaluators’ views on the values we bring as monitoring and evaluation experts, as well as the competencies needed to design, implement, monitor, and evaluate for long-term sustainability.

 

Both implicit and explicit values that donors, implementers, and M&E commissioners bring to global development work influence how that work is done. Evaluators need to be aware of and promote the explicit and implicit values that drive M&E work to build evaluation capacity that manifests evaluation values to ascertain which project results are sustainable, by whom, for how long, and why.

 

Sustainability, i.e., the long-term durability of project results, does not happen by itself; it needs to be fostered during the project, but more needs to be known about the conditions required for sustainability to take root after project closure and exit. Valuing Voices’ founder, consultants, and clients believe that evaluating sustainability cannot be limited to desk studies; that eliciting the views of country-based former project participants and partners is key. Based on the lessons from 10 such ex-post sustainability and exit evaluations done by Valuing Voices and over 90 other studies that include participant responses from a variety of donors and implementers,[2] plus seminal studies of exit strategies from Lewis (2016) and CDA (2020), we found nine elements need to be monitored and evaluated from project design to the ex-post years after closure. Development practitioners, including evaluators, need to build their knowledge about what has been sustained in ex-post evaluations and have this inform how they advocate to include these nine elements in project design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. This will need equal participation by national partners and participants to be built in throughout to foster long-term results and for new emerging pathways to emerge.

 

The nine elements are presented below in the form of checklists, which function as evaluator capacities tools. For by identifying what elements are needed to foster sustainability in programming, evaluators can inform clients and employers of what needs to be designed, implemented, monitored, and evaluated. The checklists cover two kinds of sustainability drivers: (a) commitments to sustainability, which includes designing beyond the project lifetime through a theory of sustainability, thinking about how to foster sustainability through the process of exit/handover, and considering risks and resilience; and (b) building conditions within the very project to foster lasting sustainability. This involves looking beyond resources as the only driver of durability, to seeing what makes local ownership of results robust. This includes considering several questions: How should equitable partnerships be fostered for long-term results? What capacities to keep disseminating behavior change exist? How adaptive are the timeframe and exit to foster sustainability? How accountable are projects in their communications to partners as they exit?

 

One of the greatest shocks that threatens the sustainability of most global development aid investments is climate change, which is why the natural world and access to viable nature is part of both risks and resilience to shocks. It is discussed separately, given the urgency with which we need to monitor and evaluate its progression and effect on sustainability. Some evaluator competency-building resources that help to evaluate the natural world have been added (e.g., Brouselle, 2022; Rowe, 2019). This is because nature is assumed and often overlooked in much global development programming design and evaluation, as seen in the review of several hundred ex-posts, exit reports, webinars, and evaluations, including blog posts about sustainable development by Cekan (2020a; 2020b), and underscored by Rowe (2019). The natural world and its environmental sustainability are a missing link, while the oft-stated but rarely evaluated “resilience” is often unproven (except for new ex-post research by the Adaptation Fund (2022). A viable natural world continuing to support lives and livelihoods underpins sustainability across so much of global foreign aid and urgently needs inclusion in all evaluations.

 

Defining Evaluation, Its Values, and Sustainability

 

Michael Scriven defined evaluation this way: “Evaluation determines the merit, worth, or value of things” (Scriven, 1991, as cited in Coffman, 2004, p. 1). “Valuation” (measurement, estimation of worth) is embedded in our work as evaluators. Increasingly, the field of evaluation is discussing the values that underpin the work of evaluators. Thomas Archibald notes in a book review, “Schwandt, House, and Scriven—call into question the dubious ‘value-free doctrine’ of the social sciences… [and] emphasize[s] the obvious yet frequently ignored primacy of values and valuing in evaluation” (2016, p. 448). Evaluation, from the perspective of Michael Scriven, is filled with values:

 

If evaluators cling to a values-free philosophy, then the inevitable and necessary application of values in evaluation research can only be done indirectly, by incorporating the values of other persons who might be connected with the programs, such as program administrators, program users, or other stakeholders. (Encyclopedia.com, 2018, para. 26)

 

This opens a door for participatory input from those most closely connected to projects¾the partners and the participants.

 

Michael Quinn Patton highlights tensions between evaluations that seek independent definitive judgments versus those that honor diverse perspectives. He values work done via participatory co-creation by activist, interventionist, change-committed evaluators, where the evaluation itself engages in change. This paper explicitly encourages those involved in monitoring and evaluation to work through participatory co-creation, because sustainability can only be maintained if it is locally driven. Evaluation also needs change-committed evaluators who embrace long-term sustainability.

 

The Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD/DAC) defines sustainability as the basis for ex-post project evaluation. Their definition includes that same reference to long-term sustainability, and its evaluation is part of the change needed in our field¾namely, a focus on longitudinal results: “the continuation of benefits from a development intervention after major development assistance has been completed…. [and] [t]he probability of continued long-term benefits. The resilience to risk of the net benefit flows over time” (2002, p. 37). In OECD/DAC’s updated and detailed definition, evaluators are directed to consider sustainability

 

at each point of the results chain and the project cycle of an intervention. Evaluators should also reflect on sustainability in relation to resilience and adaptation in dynamic and complex environments. This includes the sustainability of inputs (financial or otherwise) after the end of the intervention and the sustainability of impacts in the broader context of the intervention. For example, an evaluation could assess whether an intervention considered partner capacities and built ownership at the beginning of the implementation period as well as whether there was willingness and capacity to sustain financing at the end of the intervention. In general, evaluators can examine the conditions for sustainability that were or were not created in the design of the intervention and by the intervention activities and whether there was adaptation where required…. If the evaluation is taking place ex post, the evaluator can also examine whether the planned exit strategy was properly implemented to ensure the continuation of positive effects as intended. (2019 Sustainability, para. 3, 6).

 

These key elements, especially the “conditions for sustainability,” inform the checklists in this paper.

 

The OECD also differentiates between durability and ecological sustainability. With the latter being relegated to:

 

Confusion can arise between sustainability in the sense of the continuation of results, and environmental sustainability or the use of resources for future generations…. environmental sustainability is a concern (and may be examined under several criteria, including relevance, coherence, impact, and sustainability). (2019, Sustainability, para. 2)

 

Yet sustainability rests on our valuing the environment and planning for risks and resilience to sustainability (see Figure 8). As evaluators, we need to push donors and implementers to examine the natural system’s resilience, which supposedly unrelated sectors rely on. For instance, the environment affects sectors such as income generation (e.g., natural products being processed by people generating income) and education (e.g., the gardens that subsidize teacher salaries, or the farming, relying on rain, that supports parents to afford school fees). In “Planting Seeds for Change,” evaluator Brouselle (2022) reminds us of the primacy of climate values in Evaluation’s COP26 compendium:

 

We must challenge the ways that evaluations are commissioned; how policies and programmes are framed¾to take risks, going beyond existing evaluation mandates, to improve equity, health and prosperity; reduce pollution; take care of our air, waters and lands; and protect biodiversity… we should use our facilitating skills to foster democracy and engagement. Evaluators can contribute to creating spaces for dialogue and debate with commissioners, participants, and stakeholders, on the socio-ecological impacts of projects, programmes and policies. (para. 4)

 

Linking Competencies and Capacities to Sustainability via Valuing Voices Sustained Exit Checklists

There are six types of evaluator competencies that are relevant to focus work planning for sustainability during design/implementation or conducting an ex-post sustainability evaluation.

 

Evaluation as a field needs to embrace a variety of such competencies as we seek to address a range of complex problems. The first three competencies come from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), from a 2017 report called “Education for Sustainable Development Goals: Learning Objectives,” which informs the macro view for sustainability and locally led development.

 

Systems Thinking Competency

UNESCO (2017) defines this competency as “the abilities to recognize and understand relationships; to analyse complex systems; to think of how systems are embedded within different domains and different scales; and to deal with uncertainty” (p. 10). This is key as interventions interact with complicated societies, often with wider aims than what just one project wants to achieve. Uncertainty affects projects in implementation (which is why adaptive management is a checklist item (see Figure 7). Further, because ex-posts are not about direct attribution, given the complexity of communities, but contribution, it is vital to look at a range of outside influences post–project closure that could explain the results (not) seen.

 

Collaboration Competency

 

This competency is pivotal in designing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating sustainability, which lies in both “the abilities to learn from others; to understand and respect the needs, perspectives and actions of others… and to facilitate collaborative and participatory problem solving” (UNESCO, 2017, p. 10). Listening to those who will be tasked with sustaining results or innovating emerging outcomes involves a close collaboration, as does using participatory methods to both design for and troubleshoot/problem-solve with.

 

Anticipatory Competency

 

Anticipatory competency is “the ability to understand and evaluate multiple futures¾possible, probable and desirable¾and to create one’s own visions for the future, to apply the precautionary principle, to assess the consequences of actions, and to deal with risks and changes” (UNESCO, 2017, p. 10). This competency is key to the whole field of sustainability as a field of study. Often projects assume sustainability will be the long-term result of development efforts. But, as Rogers and Coates (2015) note,

 

Hope is not a strategy. Sustainability plans that depend on the expectation, or hope, that individuals and organizations will continue to function without the key factors previously identified are not likely to achieve this goal. Such plans should take account of what is feasible within the economic, political, and social/cultural context of the areas in which they work. (p. 44)

 

This also relates to two other competencies, systems thinking (discussed above) and situational practice (discussed below).

 

The Canadian Evaluation Society (CES; 2018) provides us with the second three domains relevant to sustainability that evaluators need to consider in terms of how the M&E is done.

 

Reflective Practice Competencies

CES’s Reflective Practice domain includes competencies that “focus on the evaluator’s knowledge of evaluation theory and practice; application of evaluation standards, guidelines, and ethics; and awareness of self, including reflection on one’s practice and the need for continuous learning and professional growth” (2018, p. 5). This competency applies to the content of the sustainability methods presented below, as well as the knowledge evaluators will gain from evaluating prospects for sustainability and emerging outcomes (Figure 1) in projects. Additionally, this competency domain includes both considering “the well-being of human and natural systems in evaluation practice” and being “committed to transparency” (p. 6), which is the aim of using the checklists as a whole sustainability learning process. It is important in such reflection to clarify one’s values.

 

Technical Practice Competencies

These competencies focus on the “strategic, methodological, and interpretive decisions required to conduct an evaluation” (CES, 2018, p. 5), which directly applies to the five sustained exit commitments and conditions (see Figure 3). One competency, “assesses program evaluability,” is germane to ex-post evaluation and prospects for long-term sustainability. Cekan and Legro (2021) have applied the elements in the nine checklists which comprise the Embedding Sustainability in the Project Cycle framework to a World Bank sustainability study, and Cekan has used it in ex-post evaluations, such as a recent one for youth employment (USAID Mali, 2022). It has informed the training materials created for the Adaptation Fund (2023) on how to evaluate sustainability and resilience ex-post.

 

Situational Practice Competencies

As so few projects are “cookie-cutter” versions of each other, it is always vital to contextualize each project and its prospects for sustainability in its unique context, applying CES’s third competency domain, Situational Practice: “Focus on understanding, analyzing, and attending to the many circumstances that make every evaluation unique, including culture, stakeholders, and context” (CES, 2018, p. 6), identifying how specifically the project has moved around the project cycle (see Figure 2), particularly monitoring “organizational changes and changes in the program environment during the course of the evaluation” (p. 7) as well as tracing changes that lead to likely sustainability post-project, and building evaluation capacity by “engag[ing] in reciprocal processes in which evaluation knowledge and expertise are shared between the evaluator and stakeholders” (p. 7) throughout both the analysis and the sharing of the learning results.

 

Competencies that M&E professionals need can be used when monitoring and evaluating prospects for sustainability during project implementation as well as during ex-post evaluations. Sustainability prospects increase when they are designed and planned for, as Zivetz et al. (2017) found in researching ex-posts. There are clear advantages of planning for sustainability measurement from the outset of the project as well as measuring sustainability through the entire project cycle. Donors, implementers, and experts in monitoring and evaluation, as well as national partners, need to be trained in these competencies.

Evaluating Sustainability in Practice

Aid experts including evaluators embed values in their work in a myriad of ways, starting with how projects are funded and designed and by whom; for this reason, much M&E emphasis is on final rather than ex-post evaluations and learning from them. Over $3.5 trillion has been spent on public foreign aid projects in the past 70 years (OECD, 2019). Yet, the aid industry has evaluated fewer than 1% of these projects for sustainability (Cekan, 2015). Valuing Voices’ ex-post research on 39 organizations’ ex-post evaluations of sustainability shows that most project results decrease (10–90%) as early as 2 years ex-post (Valuing Voices, 2012).

 

Except for the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which has done over 2,500 ex-post evaluations on their grants, loans, and technical assistance, learning from what lasts is rare among international aid donors and implementers. An Asian Development Bank study (2010) of post-completion sustainability found that “some early evidence suggests that as many as 40% of all new activities are not sustained beyond the first few years after disbursement of external funding” (p. 1). The World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, both multilateral banks, show less stellar investments in ex-post learning (Lopez, 2015; Cekan, 2022). Ex-post evaluations are rare, as is illustrated by a Sustainable Governance Indicators overview of EU member state policy evaluations, with most countries using them rarely or not at all (Sustainable Governance Indicators, n.d.).

 

Often in the ex-post evaluation of sustained impact, we see some results fade as early as 2 years ex-post. It is key to prioritize learning from what was sustained by asking our project participants and local/national partners directly during implementation about sustainability prospects. Field inquiry gives no time to test assumptions about drivers/barriers that the project is being implemented under and test whether optimistic trajectories will hold post-closure, as is widely assumed in the global development industry. For as Sridharan and Nakaima (2010) write:

 

There is no reason for the trajectory of performance outcomes to be linear or monotonic over time¾this has important implications for an evaluation system… [and] should programs that do not have a ‘successful’ trajectory of ‘performance measures’ be terminated? (p. 144)

 

To make sustainability more likely, designing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating for sustainability is key, and makes successful trajectories more likely. While widespread ex-post learning would be the most effective, lessons can be learned to manifest our values of pro-sustainable development by extracting learning from the ex-post evaluations and exit studies that have been done. This is the aim of the rest of this article.

 

Most ex-posts have found mixed results of some activities being sustained, and others not. Often, what was relevant and locally owned, was sustained, whereas activities that relied on donor incentives such as food aid failed to continue (Catholic Relief Services [CRS], 2016). A 2020 Jones and Jordan ex-post study of USAID Global Waters projects found that while 25 million have gained access to water and sanitation,

 

despite tremendous achievements within the life of our programs, they have largely not endured… Rural water systems that, at activity close, delivered safe water to households have fallen into disrepair. Basic latrine ownership and use have dwindled. Communities certified as open-defecation free are backsliding, and gains in handwashing have not been sustained. [Nonetheless,] where USAID invested in providing technical assistance to committed government partners and utilities, gains in service provision and local capacity were sustained, with local actors taking up and expanding upon best practices introduced during activity implementation. (para. 3, 4)

 

This again supports designing and implementing for sustainability during the project, which is the aim of this paper. But such reviews are rare among donors.

 

The dearth of ex-post evaluations suggests that most global development evaluations currently being conducted are not value neutral. Commissioners seem to value short-term results rather than showing and learning from sustained impacts. Further, donors and implementers design and fund aid projects and their evaluations. Country nationals need to be engaged throughout the project cycle (Figure 2), for they will be left to sustain results. As Scriven stated in discussions with Donaldson, Patton and Fetterman (2010),

 

I want to hear, not just about intended use or users of the evaluation. I want to find out about impact on intended and actual impactees—the targeted and accidental recipients of the program, not just the people that get the evaluation. So I consider my task as an evaluator to find out who it is that this program is aimed at reaching and helping. (p. 23)

 

Emerging Outcomes

 

Typical ex-post evaluations focus on what lasted from what donors funded. Few evaluations return ex-post to also ask the front-line users, project participants, and partners what lasted of the prior project, and what emerged from their local efforts to sustain results with fewer or different resources, partnerships, etc. This glaring omission speaks to a lack of valuing sustained results, much less learning from local capacities to sustain results differently. Thus an innovation by Valuing Voices in evaluating sustainability, either ex-post or for monitoring sustainability, is the search for emerging outcomes, namely what emerges from local efforts to sustain results, rather than focusing only on expected donor-designed pathways to still exist.

 

The example in Figure 1 comes from 2023 Adaptation Fund training materials on ex-post; it draws on a three-year World Food Program Ecuadorian ex-post evaluation of sustainability and resilience. The expected change was that improving the water supply for crops would lead to improved food security. While that was happening to some degree, other outcome pathways were happening as well. In some areas, more water was used to improve cultivation methods, which led to an emerging outcome of children returning home to their rural villages to help their parents and continued to sustain food security, which decreased family vulnerability. Elsewhere, maladaptive pathways also emerged, in which a landslide eliminated the stable water reservoir source in one site, leading farmers to revert to drawing water from a river via pump systems, which likely led to decreased water for the community.

Figure 1. Expected, Emerging, and Unexpected Outcomes Ex-Post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note. From Training Material for Ex Post Pilots, by Adaptation Fund, 2023 (https://www.adaptation-fund.org/document/training-material-for-ex-post-pilots/).

 

The picture is incomplete without looking at what was expected to be sustained and what local communities had to innovate to maintain results. Unless we look at both what was expected to be sustained and what local communities had to innovate to sustain results, the picture would be incomplete. Both can be traced during implementation and at ex-post evaluation.

 

Sustainability Around the Project Cycle

We need to build sustainability in from the onset, from funding and design to implementation, while looking out for alternative paths that locals create (see the orange slices in Figure 2). Once local stakeholders are involved throughout the project cycle (green slices in Figure 2), results are more likely to be sustained, for the programming is done with country nationals who will sustain results after donors leave. Assumptions need to be checked, adaptation to foster durability needs to be monitored and evaluated, and exit needs to include consultations on ownership, resources, partnerships, adaptation, resilience, and communications, much of which can be traced in a theory of sustainability.

 

Figure 2. Embedding Sustainability in the Project Cycle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note. From “What Happens After the Project Ends?”, by J. Cekan, 2016 (https://valuingvoices.com/what-happens-after-the-project-ends-country-national-ownership-lessons-from-post-project-sustained-impact-evaluations-part-2/ ).

 

As ex-post evaluation of projects is an important link missing before exiting with participants and partners leading sustainability; this paper focuses on lessons learned from the 90+ ex-posts reviewed. Lessons come from projects such as those below. Roughly 80% of the CRS Niger PROSAN food security project was sustained 3 years ex-post. It was implemented for sustainability by taking the final 18 months to exit, rather than 3 to 6 months. National partners were co-implementers pre–project closure. The UK charity EveryChild similarly worked with INTRAC (Lewis, 2016; Morris et al., 2021) to evaluate sustainability during exit. They did so in four countries 5 years ex-post, learning similar lessons about phasing down and over before exiting sustainably.

Were national stakeholders to partner equally, these local “targeted recipients” as Scriven tells us, could require projects not to close until further funding was secured, as EveryChild UK did. Donors, implementers, and evaluators need to listen to what locals want and can sustain. All of us who value sustainable development need to design M&E to incorporate sustainability. Exemplary studies are an ex-post tracing national primary teacher training (USAID Uganda, 2017) and final evaluation projecting sustainably prospects pre-exit from migrants and NGOs in Bangladesh (Hasan, 2021).

Thus, the checklists below help foster sustainability through M&E that involves questioning assumptions that donors and implementers, partners, and participants hold about the sustainability of results. It means building capacities to monitor and evaluate conditions for sustainable impact that are embedded in a traceable, relevant way as projects are implemented. It means documenting and learning from data throughout implementation, planning sustained exit beyond the final evaluation, and retaining data to be evaluated ex-post. This involves building understanding and capacities for ex-post evaluation and project planning (funding, design, implementation, and M&E) to foster it. This includes national stakeholders and evaluators who have a greater stake in their countries who can help foreign national stakeholders focus on learning what excelled or failed and how to use it for future projects in-country.

 

Validation

 

Several sources of expertise inform and validate the checklists (see Figures 4 to 8). In their 2015 analysis of exit strategies and sustainability for four USAID / Food and Peace countries, Rogers and Coates highlighted monitoring and evaluating the presence of four “drivers” of sustainability. These drivers create conditions that both are used to evaluate sustainability ex-post and are likely indicators for how likely sustainability is (if such drivers were put in place during implementation pre-exit). Rogers and Coates’ drivers are (a) sustained motivation/ ownership by national stakeholders to sustain a project’s activities; if activities are yielding relevant results, they are far more likely to be sustained; (b) a sustained flow of resources from, national or international sources; (c) sustained technical and managerial capacities passed on to new participants; and (d) linkages/partnerships with governmental/private or other organizations, for an array of support. Negi and Sohn (2022) confirmed the presence of these drivers across Global Environment Facility (GEF) projects created by Rogers and Coates and applied by Cekan and Legro (2022). Negi and Sohn’s review of 62 projects also confirmed that project design, a key sustainability driver, feeds into OECD’s (2019) Relevance criterion, as well as Figure 4. Similarly, USAID Uganda (2017) found the same four drivers were operational in sustainability.

These elements of sustainability draw on ex-post research by Cekan and key studies about participatory implementation and exit. One is Anderson, Brown, and Jean’s (2012) report Time to Listen. They interviewed 6,000 recipients and implementers of international aid across 20 countries from inside and outside the aid system. Their study focuses on unearthing stories “on the ways that people on the receiving side of aid suggest it can become more effective and accountable” (p. i). A second source was CDA (2020) case studies research led by Jean and a consortium of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), focused on improving exit. This work, Stopping as Success, highlighted that a gradual exit process contributes to sustainability. This research informs one of the commitments mentioned in Figure 3, namely phasing down over time during implementation and to national partners before exiting. These studies underscore that global development should be informed by local conditions and country nationals. Local participation is important while checking on sustainability prospects, as is getting local feedback on how well exit is going pre-closure. These checklists below also draw on seminal research by Lewis for INTRAC (2016), from extensive work on exit among NGOs.

Sustained Exit Commitments and Conditions Checklists

 

Figure 3. Valuing Voices Sustained Exit Commitments and Conditions Checklists

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note. From “Exit for Sustainability Checklists,” by Valuing Voices, 2020 (https://valuingvoices.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Exit-For-Sustainability-Checklists-Dec2020-2.pdf).

 

Now, let’s return to reflect on how the evaluator competencies articulated by UNESCO and CES fit into these Figure 3 commitments and conditions. Systems thinking competency leads us to consider what a theory of sustainability could consist of, and how to plan for it, given the complex ecosystems any project is embedded in. Collaborative and anticipatory competencies are brought into play when handing over projects during implementation, pre-exit. This is especially relevant to partnerships seeking to best face unknown future risks to sustainability and foster resilience to shocks pre-closure. Taking these commitments to heart predisposes projects to continuation. Another competency, reflective practice, needs to be used to discern which conditions of sustainability are driving change. Further, technical and situational practice are used in the field, examining if and to what degree sustainability is driven by these six conditions. While four of the six conditions (ownership, resources, capacities, and partnerships) driving sustainability come from the Rogers and Coates study, two additional conditions have been found to be important in the exit literature. Namely, how well timeframes pre-exit can be shifted to enable sustainability, and how clear and accountable the communication is between those closing out and those being left before closure. Consider using the nine checklists listed in Figures 4 through 8 along a scale of high–medium–low and revisiting them periodically to gauge change.

Revising a theory of change into a theory of sustainability (Figure 4) is helpful to chart stakeholders, assumptions, trajectories, key questions, and whom to ask.

 

Figure 4. Sustainability Ex-Post Project: Theory of Sustainability

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ask all stakeholders involved long before exit about how much they feel they “own” the project’s continuation and the resources needed. There is a wide range of resources to be explored and questions to ask about how much the interventions are generating local results that are valued (see Figure 5).

 

Figure 5. Designing for Exit: Ownership/Motivation and Resources

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The questions in Figure 6 can be used during baseline and midterm evaluations. Some questions can also be selected, as part of ongoing monitoring, from the lists of resources and ownership (above) and capacity strengthening and partnerships. With such data, evaluating sustainability during ex-post evaluations is much easier.

 

Figure 6. Checking Assumptions: Capacity Strengthening and Partnerships

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two of the elements that tell the most about the extent to which project implementation fosters sustainability are the amount of planning that has gone into project exit and handover, as well as adapting timeframes to readiness for exit (see Figure 7).

 

Figure 7. Monitoring and Adaptation: Exit/Handover, Timeframe, and Adaptation of Implementation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, long-term sustained and responsible exit fostering local ownership is based on planning for the immediate term (communications about who leaves and who knows why the project is closing, how respectfully this is this done and with how much involvement by local partners). As shown in the two checklists in Figure 8, it is vital to examine how well consideration of present and future risks and resilience to shocks have been embedded in programming.

 

Figure 8. Exit Consultations and Close: Risks/Resilience and Accountable Communications

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusions

 

In addition to infusing sustainability into the project cycle during implementation, it is important to live one’s values and use evaluator capacities as guiding lights for one’s work. What also matters is monitoring and evaluating sustained ownership and the other hallmarks of sustainability within the checklists during programming and at ex-post evaluation. Further, it’s important to look for the capacities that remain behind after projects close (emerging outcomes) and learn from ex-post evaluations to inform current programming to facilitate sustainability while there are sufficient resources, partnerships, capacities and other conditions. Also important is fostering what national and local stakeholders want to sustain through their commitments and conditions. Six competencies equipping monitoring and evaluation experts to do this well have been outlined above, namely systems thinking competency, collaboration competency, anticipatory competency, and reflective, technical, and situational practice competencies. These types of “evaluative thinking” lenses can and should be used, as Archibald (2021) calls for an “ethical accountability” in locally led development. Values-driven sustainability can be a powerful driving force to improve public accountability and good governance. Equipped with such skills, evaluators simultaneously bolster evaluation systems and capacities among national evaluators and program implementers alike. For equitable, values-driven accountability for sustainability to happen, power needs to shift to people at national and local levels to determine what resources, partnerships, and capacities are needed and what is a priority for them to take ownership of. We can begin as soon as possible by building the most likely conditions for sustainability and commitments to foster sustainable exit into the project cycle. We have no time to lose; embracing such values-driven sustainability would be of great benefit.

 

 

References

 

Adaptation Fund (2022). Training material for ex post evaluations. https://www.adaptation-fund.org/about/evaluation/publications/evaluations-and-studies/ex-post-evaluations/

Adaptation Fund. (2023). Training materials for ex post pilots. https://www.adaptation-fund.org/document/training-material-for-ex-post-pilots/

Anderson, M. B., Brown, D., & Jean, I. (2012, December 1). Time to listen: Hearing people on the receiving end of international aid. CDA Collaborative. https://www.cdacollaborative.org/publication/time-to-listen-hearing-people-on-the-receiving-end-of-international-aid/

Archibald, T. (2016). Evaluation foundations revisited: Cultivating a life of the mind for practice [Review of the book Evaluation foundations revisited: Cultivating a life of the mind for practice, by T. A. Schwandt]. American Journal of Evaluation, 37(3), 448–452. https://doi.org/10.1177/1098214016648794

Archibald, T. (2021, February 18). Critical and evaluative thinking skills for transformative evaluation. Eval4Action. https://www.eval4action.org/post/critical-and-evaluative-thinking-skills-for-transformative-evaluation

Asian Development Bank. (2010, October). Special evaluation study on post-completion sustainability of Asian Development Bank-assisted projects. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. https://www.oecd.org/derec/adb/47186868.pdf

Brouselle, A. (2022). Planting seeds for change. Evaluation28(1), 7–35. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/13563890221074173

Canadian Evaluation Society. (2018, November). Competencies for Canadian evaluation practice. Evaluation Canada. https://evaluationcanada.ca/files/pdf/2_competencies_cdn_evaluation_practice_2018.pdf

Catholic Relief Services. (2016, October 7). Participation by all: The keys to sustainability of a CRS food security project in Niger. https://www.crs.org/our-work-overseas/research-publications/participation-all

CDA. (2020). Stopping as success: Research findings case studies. CDA, Peace Direct, Search for Common Ground. https://www.stoppingassuccess.org/resources/

Cekan, J. (2015). When funders move on. Stanford Social Innovation Review. https://ssir.org/articles/entry/when_funders_move_on

Cekan, J. (2016, February 19). What happens after the project ends? Country-national ownership lessons from post-project sustained impacts evaluations (Part 2). Valuing Voices. https://valuingvoices.com/what-happens-after-the-project-ends-country-national-ownership-lessons-from-post-project-sustained-impact-evaluations-part-2/

Cekan, J. (2020a, April 20). Sustaining sustainable development. Valuing Voices. https://valuingvoices.com/sustaining-sustainable-development/

Cekan, J. (2020b, October 28). Sustained exit? Prove it or improve it! [Webinar]. Valuing Voices. https://valuingvoices.com/interactive-webinar-sustained-exit-prove-it-or-improve-it-nov-6-2020/

Cekan, J. (2022, November 26). Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) – Where have your ex-post evaluations, and learning from them, gone? Valuing Voices. https://valuingvoices.com/inter-american-development-bank-idb-where-have-your-ex-post-evaluations-and-learning-from-them-gone/

Cekan, J., & Legro, S. (2022). Can we assume sustained impact? Verifying the sustainability of climate change mitigation results. In J. I. Uitto & G. Batra (Eds.), Transformational change for people and the planet: Evaluating environment and development. Springer. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-78853-7

Coffman, J. (2004). Michael Scriven on the differences between evaluation and social science research. Evaluation Exchange, 9(4). https://archive.globalfrp.org/evaluation/the-evaluation-exchange/issue-archive/reflecting-on-the-past-and-future-of-evaluation/michael-scriven-on-the-differences-between-evaluation-and-social-science-research

Donaldson, S., Patton, M., Fetterman D., & Scriven, M. (2010). The 2009 Claremont debates: The promise and pitfalls of utilization-focused and empowerment evaluation. Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation, 6(13). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/41391464_The_2009_Claremont_Debates_The_Promise_and_Pitfalls_of_Utilization-Focused_and_Empowerment_Evaluation

Encyclopedia.com. (2018, May 17). Evaluation research: Brief history. https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences-and-law/sociology-and-social-reform/sociology-general-terms-and-concepts/evaluation-research

Hasan, A. A. (2021, January 17). Ex-post eval week: Are we serious about project sustainability and exit? American Evaluation Association AEA365. https://aea365.org/blog/ex-post-eval-week-are-we-serious-about-project-sustainability-and-exit-by-abu-ala-hasan/

Japan International Cooperation Agency. (n.d.). Ex-post evaluation (technical cooperation). https://www.jica.go.jp/english/our_work/evaluation/tech_and_grant/project/ex_post/index.html

Jones, A., & Jordan, E. (2020, October 19). Unpacking the drivers of WASH sustainability. USAID Global Waters. https://www.globalwaters.org/resources/blogs/unpacking-drivers-wash-sustainability

Lewis, S. (2016, January). Developing a timeline for exit strategies: Experiences from an Action Learning Set with the British Red Cross, EveryChild, Oxfam GB, Sightsavers and WWF-UK. INTRAC. https://www.intrac.org/wpcms/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/INTRAC-Praxis-Paper-31_Developing-a-timeline-for-exit-strategies.-Sarah-Lewis.pdf

Lopez, K. (2015, April 7). IEG blog series part II: Theory vs. practice at the World Bank. Valuing Voices. https://valuingvoices.com/ieg-blog-series-part-ii-theory-vs-practice-at-the-world-bank/

Morris, L., George, B., Gondwe, C., James, R., Mauney, R., & Tamang, D. D. (2021, June). Is there lasting change, five years after EveryChild’s exit? Lessons in designing programmes for lasting impact. INTRAC. https://www.intrac.org/wpcms/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Praxis-Paper-13_EveryChild-exit.pdf

Negi, N. K., & Sohn, M. W. (2022). Sustainability after project completion: Evidence from the GEF. In J. I. Uitto & G. Batra (Eds.), Transformational change for people and the planet: Evaluating environment and development. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-78853-7_4

OECD. (2019). Applying evaluation criteria thoughtfully. [Chapter: Understanding the six criteria: Definitions, elements for analysis and key challenges]. OECD Publishing. https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/543e84ed-en/1/3/4/index.html?itemId=/content/publication/543e84ed-en&_csp_=535d2f2a848b7727d35502d7f36e4885&itemIGO=oecd&itemContentType=book#section-d1e4964

OECD/DAC. (2002). Evaluation and Aid Effectiveness No. 6 – Glossary of Key Terms in Evaluation and Results Based Management (in English, French and Spanish). https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/development/evaluation-and-aid-effectiveness-no-6-glossary-of-key-terms-in-evaluation-and-results-based-management-in-english-french-and-spanish_9789264034921-en-fr#page37

Patton, M. Q. (2022, June 13). Why so many evaluation approaches: The short story version [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xY9jMUUorM.

Rogers, B. L. & Coates, J. (2015, December). Sustaining development: A synthesis of results from a four-country study of sustainability and exit strategies among development food assistance projects. Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance III Project (FANTA III) for USAID. https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00M1SX.pdf

Rowe, A. (2019). Sustainability-ready evaluation: A call to action. New Directions for Evaluation, 162. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ev.20365

Sustainable Governance Indicators. (n.d.). Evidence-based instruments. https://www.sgi-network.org/2020/Good_Governance/Executive_Capacity/Evidence-based_Instruments/Quality_of_Ex_Post_Evaluation

Sridharan, S., & Nakaima, A. (2010). Ten steps to making evaluation matter. Evaluation and Program Planning, 34(2), 135–146. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2010.09.003

UNESCO. (2017). Education for sustainable development goals: Learning objectives. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000247444

USAID Mali. (2022, December). Ex-post evaluation of the USAID/Mali Out Of School Youth Project (PAJE-NIETA): Final evaluation report. https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00ZTBJ.pdf

USAID Uganda. (2017, October 11). Uganda case study summary report: Evaluation of sustained outcomes. https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PBAAJ314.pdf

Valuing Voices. (2020, December). Exit for sustainability checklists. https://valuingvoices.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Exit-For-Sustainability-Checklists-Dec2020-2.pdf

Valuing Voices. (2012). Catalysts for ex-post learning. https://valuingvoices.com/catalysts-2/

Zivetz, L., Cekan J., & Robbins, K. (2017, May). Building the evidence base for post-project evaluation: Case study review and evaluability checklists. Valuing Voices. https://valuingvoices.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/The-case-for-post-project-evaluation-Valuing-Voices-Final-2017.pdf

[1] https://valuingvoices.com/

[2] https://valuingvoices.com/catalysts-2/

This chapter in published form can be accessed at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/376497201_Fostering_Values-Driven_Sustainability_Through_an_Ex-Post_Capacities_Lens

Follow our path on Ex-Post Sustainability and Resilience Seasonal Joy

Follow our path on Ex-Post Sustainability and Resilience Seasonal Joy

Rarely do we get to teach, innovate, learn, and expand a hidden corner of one’s field. This is what is I am experiencing, and the Fund is sharing. Here is the Adaptation Fund’s ex-post project evaluation of sustainability and resilience path and progress in 2021.

 

I am quoting liberally and highlighting our work from the Adaptation Fund’s website where their commitment to learning from what lasts is clear. “Ex post evaluations are a key element of the AF-TERG FY21-FY23 strategy and work programme, originating from the request of the Adaptation Fund Board to develop post-implementation learning for Fund projects and programmes and provide accountability of results financed by the Fund. They intend to evaluate aspects of both sustainability of outcomes and climate resilience, and over time feed into ex-post-evaluation-informed adjustments within the Fund’s Monitoring Evaluation and Learning (MEL) processes.”

 

How are we defining sustainability’s path to evaluate it? Here is a flowchart from our training:

 

There are four phases from 0 to 3:
Phase 0 Foundational Review: Not only was this work preceded by months of background research on both evaluability of their young portfolio (e.g., under 20 of the 100 projects funded were closed at least three years, a selection criteria we had) and secondary research on evidence of ex-post sustainability evaluation in climate change/ resilience across the Adaptation Fund’s sectors.

Phase 1 Framework and Pilots Shortlist: Our Phase 1 report from mid-2021 provided an overview of the first stage of ex-post evaluations, outlining methods and identifying a list of potential projects for ex-post evaluation pilots from the Fund’s 17 completed, evaluated projects. The framework presented in the report introduced possible methods to evaluate the sustainability of project outcomes, considering the characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses of the Fund portfolio. It also presents an analysis tool to assess climate resilience, bearing in mind that this area is pivotal to climate change adaptation yet has rarely been measured.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Phase one report on ex post project sustainability evaluation

Vetting and pilot selection, revised design for evaluating sustained outcomes related to resilience to climate change. Key aspects are: 1) Timing (3-5 years since closure or projects at least 4 years long within the last 5 years and seasonality matches the final evaluation) and 2) Good quality of implementation and M&E with measurable outputs and outcomes traceable to impact(s) and 3) Safety to do fieldwork re: Covid, civil peace, etc.

 

 

We (my so-clever colleagues Meg Spearman and Dennis Bours) introduced a new resilience analysis tool that includes consideration of the climate disturbances, the human and natural systems (and their nexus) affected by and affecting project outcomes. This includes five characteristics of resilience in the outcomes (presence of feedback loops, at scale, plus being diverse, dynamic, and redundant) and means/actions to support outcomes. Resilience can be identified via a clear summary of the structures (S) and functions (F) that typify Resistance, Resilience and Transformation showing where a project is and is moving towards. It is a typology of resistance-resilience-transformation (RRT) onto which the overall project can be mapped based on how actions are designed to maintain or change existing structures and functions. That was integrated into the Adaptation Fund resilience evaluation approach.

 

 

Phase 2 Methods Testing and Ex-post Field-testing: Training of national evaluators and piloting two ex-post evaluations per year includes selecting among these methods to evaluate sustainability ex-post plus the RRT and resilience measures above. In the first ex-post in Samoa’s “Enhancing Resilience of Samoa’s Coastal Communities to Climate Change” (UNDP) happening December 21, it is through qualitative evaluation of wall-infrastructure. The second, Ecuador’s “Enhancing resilience of communities to the adverse effects of climate change on food security, in Pichincha Province and the Jubones River basin “(WFP) has training completed and fieldwork should be from January 22, likely be of food security assets and methods TBD.

 

Phase 3 Evaluations continue, with MEL Capacity Building: Two more years of ex-post pilot evaluations (2 per year) with lesson informing integration into the MEL of the Adaptation Fund. We are already finding out lessons of rigor, of knowledge management, of unexpected benefits of returning years after closure, including indications of sustainability and resilience of the assets, with much more learning to come.

Innovations include “the relative novelty of climate change adaptation portfolios and the limited body of work on ex post evaluation for adaptation, it presents possible methods that will be piloted in field-tested ex post evaluations in fiscal year 2022 (FY22).” This includes piloting shockingly rare evaluation of oft-promised resilience. In the update to AF’s Board three months ago, it transparently outlined shortlisting of five completed projects as potential candidates for the pilots, of which two projects were selected for ex post evaluations. It outlined our process of co-creating the evaluation with national partners to prioritize their learning needs while building national capacity to assess sustainability and resilience of project outcomes in the field onward.

 

Also, training materials for ex post pilots are being shared to foster country and industry learning, focusing on evaluating projects at ex-post and emerging sustainability and resilience, as well as presenting and adapting methods to country and project realities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The training material for ex-post pilots

 

The training had three sessions (which could not have happened without colleague Caroline’s expertise):

  • Part A: Understanding ex-post & resilience evaluations. Introduce and understand ex-post evaluations of sustainability and resilience, especially in the field of climate change adaptation
  • Part B: Discussing country-specific outcome priorities and co-creating learning with stakeholders. Discuss the project and its data more in-depth to understand and select what outcome(s) will be evaluated at ex-post
  • Part C: Developing country-specific methods and approaches. Discuss range of methods with the national evaluator and M&E experts to best evaluate the selected outcome(s) and impact(s)

 

Overall progress can be seen in the document updating the AF’s board: A progress update on ex post evaluations (AFB/EFC.28/Inf.4)

 

So in 2018 I Wished for Sustained Outcomes to be explored and in 2019 I Wished again for more Ex-post Evaluation than Needles in Haystacks. In  2021 some of these wishes are becoming fulfilled!  Seasonal Happiness for me is learning about resilience to climate change, diminished vulnerability and searching for proof of sustainability and emerging outcomes and impact(s) and I am grateful to the Adaptation Fund for its commitment to sustainability.

Accompany us on this path, cheer us on, and do your own ex-post sustainability and resilience evaluations! Happy holidays from the Czech Republic!

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Funding and Accountability for sustainable projects?

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Funding and Accountability for sustainable projects?

What are Sustainable Development Goals? ” the United Nations adopted the new post-2015 development agenda. The new proposals – to be achieved by 2030- set 17 new ‘sustainable’ development goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. Some, like Oxfam, see the SDGs as a country budgeting and prioritization as well as an international fundraising tool. They cite that “government revenue currently funds 77% of spending…aligned with government priorities, balanced between investment and recurrent and easy to implement than donor-funded spending…” National investments are vital, but how much has the world used the SDGs to target investments and foster sustainable results?

Using results data such as that of the sectoral SDGs, countries can also ensure accountability for the policies implemented to reduce global and local inequities, but we must learn from the data. Over halfway to the goal, data is being collected, and while there is robust monitoring by countries who have built their M&E systems, other countries are faltering. “A recent report by Paris21 found even highly developed countries are still not able to report more than 40-50% of the SDG indicators” and “only 44% of SDG indicators have sufficient data for proper global and regional monitoring”. Further, there is very little evaluation or transparent accountability. Some of the data illuminate vitally need-to-know-for-better-programming. SDG data shows good news that Western and Asian countries have done better than most of the world 2015-19… but there is a lot of missing data while other data shows staggering inequities such as these:

  • In Vietnam, a child born into the majority Kinh, or Viet, ethnic group is three and a half times less likely to die in his or her first five years than a child from other Vietnamese ethnic groups.
  • In the United States, a black woman is four times more likely to die in childbirth than a white woman.

So are we using the SDG data to better target funding and improve design? This is the kind of evaluative learning (or at least sharing by those that are doing it :)) that is missing. As my colleague and friend Sanjeev Sridharan writes on Rethinking Evaluation, “As a field we need to more clearly understand evaluation’s role in addressing inequities and promoting inclusion” including “Promoting a Culture of Learning for Evaluation – these include focus on utilization and integration of evaluation into policy and programs.” How well learning is integrating is unknown.

As a big picture update on the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2021, with only nine years left to the goal: It’s not looking good. The scorecards show COVID-19 has slowed down or wiped out many achievements, with 100 million people pushed into extreme poverty, according to the IMF. Pre-Covid, our blog on sectoral SDG statistics on health, poverty, hunger, and climate, was already showing very mixed results and a lack of mutual accountability.

The private sector is ever-being pushed to fund more of such development costs, only marginally successfully, as public sector expenditures are squeezed. Yet the G20 estimates that $2.5 TRILLION is needed every year to meet the SDG goals. As we have seen at Impact Guild, the push to incentivize private commitments is faltering. “To ensure its sustainability, the private sector has specific interests in securing long-term production along commodity supply chains, while reducing their environmental and social impacts and mitigating risks… The long-term economic impacts of funding projects that support the sustainability agenda are, thus, clearly understood. However, additional capital needs to flow into areas that address the risks appropriately. For example, much remains to be done to factor climate change as a risk variable into emerging markets that face the largest financing gap in achieving the SDGs.” Further, if decreased funding trends continue, by 2030, at minimum 400 million people will still live on less than $1.25 a day; around 650 million people will be undernourished, and nearly 1 billion people will be without energy access. So we’re not meeting the SDGs, they’re being derailed by COVID in places, and we aren’t beginning to cost out the need to address climate change and its effects on global development…. so now what?

From: https://www.g20-insights.org/policy_briefs/incentivizing-the-private-sector-to-support-the-united-nations-sustainable-development-goals/

To ensure that giving everyone a fair chance in life is more than just a slogan; accountability is crucial. This should include a commitment from world leaders to report on progress on “leaving no one behind” in the SDG follow-up and review framework established for the post-2015 agenda and for the private sector to loudly track their investments across the SDGs. For as The Center for American Progress wrote, money and results are key: We must “measure success in terms of outcomes for people, rather than in inputs—such as the amount of money spent on a project—as well as in terms of national or global outcomes” and that “policymakers at the global level and in each country should task a support team of researchers with undertaking an analysis of each commitment.”

A further concern. While we seem to measure the statistics periodically and see funding allocated to SDG priorities, but there are few causal links drawn between intensity in investment in any SDG goal and sustained results. To what degree are the donations/ investments into the SDGs linked to improvements? Without measuring causality or attribution, it could be a case of “A rising tide lifts all boats” as economies improve or, as Covid-related economic decline wiped out 20 years of development gains as Bill Gates noted last year. We need proof that trillions of dollars of international “Sustainable development” programs have any sustained impact beyond the years of intervention.

We must do more evaluation and learn from SDG data for better targeting of investments and do ex-post sustainability evaluations to see what was most sustained, impactful, and relevant. Donors should raise more funds to meet needs and consider only funding what could be sustained locally. Given the still uncounted demands on global development funding, we can no longer hope or wait for global mobilization of trillions given multiple crises pushing more of the world into crisis. Let’s focus now.

Wishing for ex-post evaluation Christmas Lights rather than Needles in Haystacks

 

Wishing for Ex-Post Evaluation Christmas Lights
Rather than Needles in Haystacks

 

This is what the life of most ex-post evaluation researchers looks like, mostly without the counting congratulator:

 

I recently spent three days looking for ex-post evaluations for a client across nearly a dozen organizations. I was hard-pressed to find 16 actual ones. Sorting through ‘impact evaluations’ that were done in the middle of implementation does not tell us anything about what was sustained after we left, nor do delayed final evaluations that happen to be done after closure. While these (rightly) focus on cost-effectiveness, relevance, and efficiency, measures of sustained impact are projections, not actual measures of what outcomes and impacts stood the test of time. I weeded out some desk studies that did not return to ask anyone who participated. Others titled ‘ex-post’ were barely midterms (I can only gather they misconstrued ‘ex-post’ as after-starting implementation?), and a few more reports only recommended doing ex-post evaluation after this final evaluation. For more lessons on how random and misconstrued ex-posts can be, see Valuing Voices’ research for Scriven. None of these 16 actual ex-posts even told us anything about what emerged (as we look at during Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluations) from local efforts in the years after assistance ended [1].

This is what I wish my ex-post haystack would look like, bountiful treasures of numerous ex-post-project evaluations, as numerous as these Christmas lights here in Tabor, Czech Republic.

 

If we had more ex-posts to learn from, we could learn from what lasted. What could locals sustain? Why? Why not? How can we do better next time? We could compare across sectors and countries, and we could see what conditions and processes during implementation supported sustainability -and, importantly – why some failed, so we don’t repeat those mistakes.

We could move from our current orange slices that end at closure to green sustainability of the project cycle:

I will be adding the ones I found to our Catalysts list soon, but when my client asked me who held databases of ex-post evaluations, I had to say only Valuing Voices and Japan’s JICA (since 1993, who even differentiates the ex-posts between Technical Grants and ODA Loans). This is not to say some cannot be found by trawling the OECD or the World Bank, but this is Needle-in-Haystack work again, and so there are only two databases to learn from. Isn’t that shocking?

Now JICA has really upped the illumination ante, so to speak: They are now doing what they are calling JICA’s Ex-post Monitoring’, which was like Christmas come early [2]! Returning to learn at least 7 years after the ex-post, which was 1-3 years after closure, such as in this case of ex-post monitoring and learning from 10 projects (2007). They have done ex-post monitoring for a total of 91 cases, evaluating the sustained impacts of results, see if JICA’s recommendations to their partners had been implemented, how they had adapted to changes over a decade post-closure, and find learning for new programming. “Ex-post monitoring is undertaken 7 years after a project was completed in principle in order to determine whether or not the expected effects and impacts continue to be generated, to check that there are no sustainability-related problems with the technical capacities, systems, and finances of the executing agency nor with the operation and management of developed facilities, etc., and to ascertain what action has been taken vis-a-vis the lessons learned and recommendations gleaned during the ex-post evaluation.” While it was unclear why these specific projects were selected, it is amazing they are doing 5-10 per year.

They are my ex-post gods/ goddesses, and I fawned over two JICA evaluators at the last European Evaluation Society Conference. Why do I fawn? JICA lists 2,273 results under ex-post evaluations of Technical Cooperation, Grant Aid, ODA loans! They are literally the only organization I know whose searched reports are actually ‘ex-post’.

What we can learn from returning again is illustrated by one of JICA’s water project loans in RSA, which ended in 2003, had an ex-post in 2006, followed by monitoring of sustainability in 2013 [3]. While the report included issues of data access and evaluators expressed caution in attributing causation of positive changes to the project, but it not only continued functioning, the government of South Africa (RSA) solved barriers found at the ex-post:

  • “Data for the supply and demand of water pertaining to the Kwandebele region could not be obtained. However, considering the calculation from the water-supplied population and supplied volume and the result from the DWAF interview, water shortage could not be detected in the four municipalities studied by this project…” [3]
  • “The ex-post evaluation indicated that the four components were not in the state to be operated and managed effectively. Currently, the components are operated and managed effectively and are operating under good condition [and] concerning sustainability, improvement can be seen from the time of ex-post evaluation. Shortage of employees and insufficient technical knowledge has been resolved…” [3]
  • “Compared to the time of ex-post evaluation, improvement was seen in the under-five mortality and life expectancy. However, since the components implemented by this project are limited in comparison with the scope of the project, it is impossible to present a clear causal relationship” [3].

In another, from Indonesia’s air quality testing labs which involved capacity building and equipment maintenance 6 years after the ex-post, they mostly found training and use continued despite organizational changes and maintenance challenges: [4]

  • “After the ex-post evaluation, many of the target laboratories changed their affiliation from the Ministry of Public Works (MOPW) and MOH to provincial governments. While the relocation of equipment has been carried out in a handful of provinces, in other provinces, equipment is still located at the laboratories where it was originally installed, and these laboratories still have the right of use” [4]
  • In spite of some irregularities,”As the Ministry of Environment (MOE) still has ownership of the equipment, some laboratories have inappropriate audit results that show the allocation of O&M budget to equipment which is not included in their accounting…” [4]
  • “Out of 20 laboratories where the questionnaire survey confirmed that equipment still remained, 15 laboratories replied that spare parts for equipment are still available but are difficult to obtain…It takes several months to one year to obtain spare parts, occasionally out of Indonesia, even if a repair service is available” [4].

In this case, there were lessons learned for JICA and Indonesia’s Ministry of the Environment programs about ownership and the right use of the equipment and retiring obsolete equipment. Talk about a commitment to learning from the ongoing success or failure of one’s projects!

 

As you have read here on Valuing Voices for more than 6 years unless we include post-project sustainability that asks our participants and partners how sustained their lives and livelihoods could be and even resilient to shocks like political or climate change, we cannot say we are doing Sustainable Development. We need such lessons about what could be sustained and why.

We can prepare better to foster sustainability. In the coming months, we are working on checklists to consider during funding, design, implementation, M&E pre-and post-exit to foster sustainability. Will keep you posted, but as World Vision also found: “Measuring sustainability through ex-posts requires setting clear benchmarks to measure success prior to program closure, including timelines for expected sustainment.”

And as my gift to you this Holiday Season, let me share WV’s Learning Brief about Sustainability, with wise and provocative questions to ponder about dynamic systems, benchmarking, continuous learning, attribution, and managing expectations [5]. World Vision shares how infrastructure and community groups and social cohesion fared well, yet lessons circled back to the need for JICA-like ‘monitoring’ and mirror rich ex-post lessons from FFP/Tufts (Rogers, Coates) and Hiller et al. that explains why we do ex-posts at all: “Project impact at the time of exit does not consistently predict sustainability“ [6].

 

Now my gift: a few big lessons from the 6 years of researching sustainability across the development spectrum.  I have found no evaluations that were only positive OR ONLY NEGATIVE. Most results trended downwards, a few held steady, and all were mixed. We cannot assume the sustainability of results at closure nor optimistic projections, as we’ve seen in the climate arena.

Please consider:

  • Designing with our participants and partners so what we do,
  • Implementing with partners far longer to make sure things still work,
  • Adapting exit based on benchmarks to see how well the resources, partnerships, capacities, and ownership have been transferred,
  • Using control or comparison groups to make sure ‘success’ was due to you and being careful about attributing results to your projects while considering how you contributed to a larger whole of ongoing country progress or stagnation,
  • Being willing to jettison what is unlikely to be sustained and learn from what we designed and implemented poorly (due to our design, their implementation, and external conditions),
  • Given climate change, learning fast, adaptively, and revising fast given changing conditions,
  • Without knowing what has been sustained, we cannot replicate nor scale up,
  • Sharing lessons with your leaders – for people’s lives depend on our work,
  • Learning from what emerged as our participants and partners refashioned implementation in new ways could sustain it (without the millions we brought),
  • Refocusing ‘success’ from how much we have spent to how much was sustained.

 

Please make our next Christmas merry. Do MANY ex-post evaluations, Learn TONS, Share WIDELY WHAT WORKED AND FAILED TO WORK (you will be praised!), and let’s CHANGE HOW WE DO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT.

 

May 2020 bring health, happiness, and to all of us a more sustainable world!

 

 

Sources:

[1] Cekan, J., Zivetz, L., & Rogers, P. (2016). Sustained and Emerging Impacts Evaluation (SEIE). Retrieved from https://www.betterevaluation.org/en/themes/SEIE

[2] JICA. (n.d.). Ex-post Monitoring. Retrieved December, 2019, from https://www.jica.go.jp/english/our_work/evaluation/oda_loan/monitoring/index.html

[3] Matsuyama, K. (2012). Ex-Post Monitoring of Japanese ODA Loan Project: South Africa, Kwandebele Region Water Augmentation Project. Retrieved from https://www.jica.go.jp/english/our_work/evaluation/oda_loan/monitoring/c8h0vm000001rdlp-att/2012_full_03.pdf

[4] Kobayashi, N. (2009, August). Ex-post Monitoring of Completed ODA Loan Project: Indonesia, The Bepedal Regional Monitoring Capacity Development Project. Retrieved from https://www.jica.go.jp/english/our_work/evaluation/oda_loan/monitoring/c8h0vm000001rdlp-att/indonesia2008_01.pdf

[5] Trandafili, H. (2019). Learning Brief: What does sustainability look like post-program? Retrieved from https://valuingvoices.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Sustainability-Learning-Brief_final_WV-icons.pdf

[6] Rogers, B. L., & Coates, J. (2015, December). Sustaining Development: A Synthesis of Results from a Four-Country Study of Sustainability and Exit Strategies among Development Food Assistance Projects. Retrieved from https://www.fsnnetwork.org/ffp-sustainability-and-exit-strategies-study-synthesis-report